Today, Sunday January 29th, is Chinatown’s Chinese Lunar New Year 2012 Parade and a kick off of Chinatown's Centennial Year. It is the Year of the Dragon and the 4710 celebration of the Chinese New Year 2012. I have read that this year, along with marching bands and floats, there will be a 100 foot long paper dragon made out of silk, paper, and bamboo.
Last week, in celebration of the beginning of the Chinese New Year, a friend and I decided to make a visit. I have only been to "The Chinatown Gate" once before and that was because the person I was riding with missed the exit to Midway Airport. I was curious, but just never had the opportunity. My only reference is Chinatown in San Francisco. So Chicago's Chinatown was long overdue.
Our taxi driver, who drove us from the train station, was from Romania. He is here to get his Master's Degree. (I have found more taxi drivers here that are pursuing university studies. This is fascinating to me because our kids probably wouldn't go to Europe to study and drive a taxi in a big unfamiliar city to afford to do it. Talk amongst yourselves...) He was full of helpful information... which is kind of embarrassing since we are from here. He told us where we should eat, where the limits of Chinatown are, and where we should probably NOT walk.
This is where we got out and started our trek. (If you only walk 3 blocks is that considered a trek?) The details of days gone by were still very beautiful. We were pretty sure that this must be a museum because it is so beautiful and there were times on the door...other than that we could not read a thing. We went into the store next door and asked, "What time does the museum open?" Her reply..."That is not museum." OK... so we started walking. Note to self ~ Don't ask stupid questions.
After stopping in 3 more stores to ask if we were still going in the right direction, you can never be too careful...or stupid, we finally made it to the Chinese American Museum of Chicago . One of the exhibits is The Great Wall to the Great Lakes. It displays the journey and hardships of Chinese immigrants from the their homeland to the West Coast to the Midwest to work on the railroad. There are passports and photos and luggage along with a timeline on the walls. Of course, just like any new immigrant group, they were not welcomed with open arms and were thought to be a big problem. They persevered by opening up laundries and restaurants.
On another wall are more modern shadow boxes with real life stories of Chicago families and how their far away ancestors and not so distant relatives arrived and flourished. It is a nice quiet place to read about what families had to do to become successful and it also puts a real live face to the story. This dad and daughter were enjoying their time together. Ok, she, maybe not so much, but I bet there was lunch or a treat in the deal. I am sure he loved holding her hand while he was reading of others that had it more difficult than he and his family today.
We had Chinese food on the brain after that so we headed to Joy Yee. Since it has three locations, Chinatown, Naperville, and Evanston, we decided it probably wasn't a mom-and-pop-go-out-on-a-limb-brave-choice for lunch, but we felt like we just wanted to know what we were eating today. (Ok, every day for me. I actually prefer to know what I am eating everyday.)
We chose a platter of mixed everything so we could have a taste of more than one thing and also ordered a bowl of miso soup. The food was delicious and we were confident that we ate pretty authentic, but mainstream. Unlike the guy sitting next to us who had oxtail soup.
We stopped into two different grocery stores after lunch that were so fascinating. There were just rows and rows of dried seafood for soups and cooking and tonics for health purposes. Dried seahorses, scallops, and abalone, ginseng, ginger, etc. The prices were amazing and if the shop keepers had spoken English, I would have had sooooo many questions about how these items are used. Without getting any answers, these foods were about as foreign as any I have ever seen before. And could the price really have been $1580.00 per ounce???? I know. I couldn't believe it either. I have to say though, it did smell like the ocean in there.
One last photo before getting on the Red Line to get back...I am sure that in it's day, Chinatown was much shinier and beautiful than today, unfortunately, and I do hope to take the water taxi back to the Ping Tom Memorial Park this summer on a warmer day when walking around is more enjoyable.
If you can't get to Chinatown, then celebrate the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon at your favorite Chinese restaurant. The "Dragon" is associated with wealth, power, and courage. And for those of you that are a "Dragon" (1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 1200, 2012), this is your year! Go get 'em.